"I thought I did," said Parise. "I celebrated like I did."
Turns out linemate Dainius Zubrus banged the puck in from five feet out with Parise's stick just behind his. Either way, it wasn't a shock to anyone affiliated with the Devils or the Flyers, or anyone watching, that Parise was in the middle of a goal. This one just happened to be the biggest of New Jersey's season so far.
This is what Zach Parise is all about. He may not represent the heart and soul of the Devils -- Martin Brodeur will be the face of the franchise until he hangs up his blocker around age 50 -- but Parise represents this new generation in New Jersey. The portrait of Parise? Standing inches outside the opposing crease, scoring another in an endless series of filthy goals.
"Zach doesn't score many from the top of the circles," said Brodeur. "He just hangs around the net and gets his stick on the puck. He also takes a ton of punishment."
Perhaps never more so than on Friday, when the Flyers Broad-Streeted him every chance they had after Parise opened the scoring just 2:45 into the game. When Flyers defenseman Matt Carle flubbed a pass from Chris Pronger at the point on the power play, Patrik Elias passed to Parise, darting for daylight. Parise scored on a breakaway on his backhand for the shorthanded goal.
The goal was made easier when Chris Pronger, Philadelphia's all-time nasty defenseman, seem startled when Parise went to his backhand and allowed him to score with just a love tap in the back.
From there on in, the Flyers appeared to take extra pains to bring pain to the 5-11, 190-pound Parise – including after whistles. Even Philadelphia goaltender Brian Boucher got into the act by shoving his head into the ice a few times when Parise crashed his crease. "They let that one go," Parise said, only mildly irritated.
Ilya Kovalchuk, the Devils' big acquisition before the Olympic break, was a threat for both teams. He had two assists and scored an empty-net goal with 32 seconds left to seal the game. His work at the point of the power play clearly opened up space down low for Andy Greene's power play goal at 13:25 of the second to give New Jersey a 3-2 lead.
But Kovalchuk was also a bit of a mess. He took three minor penalties, getting into it with the likes of Flyers grinder Darroll Powe. "He lacks experience in the playoffs," said New Jersey coach Jacques Lemaire. "You can't get tangled with a guy who plays ten minutes, and then you're out for two. Not when you're a top player. You have to stay away from that."
Kovalchuk missed more shots (three) than he landed on goal (two). The star right wing appears to be trying too hard to deliver for the Devils. Then again, for better and worse, general manager Lou Lamoriello knew what he was getting when he packaged four assets for the future unrestricted free agent. The dynamic Kovalchuk, the kind of wild child the Devils have never had, could still take over this series.
But he hasn't yet. Game 1 started with a goal by Parise and ended with a goal by ... well, Zubrus. But Parise, as the Devils can always count on, was right there.
"Zach was no different tonight than in the first 82 games we played this season," said Zubrus. "He plays as hard in the beginning of the season as he did tonight. Because the other teams always has to have their eyes on him, he makes the game a little bit easier for the rest of us."
Said linemate Patrik Elias, who partnered with Parise on several give and go's that led to scoring chances, "Zach jumps on pucks and forces the D. He makes goals like the winner happen."
For the Devils to survive this series, Parise doesn't always have to be the catalyst -- just the closer.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette on the game-winner by Zubrus: "We needed to tie up sticks, but we got out-muscled." Although Chris Pronger played 27:26 and Kimmo Timonen played 24:16, a long shift resulted in Oskars Bartulis (12:53) and Ryan Parent (12:31) being on the ice for the winning goal. ...
Pronger scored his second goal of the series, and both were in front of the Devils' goal on a power play. This one, a deflection of a point shot by Kimmo Timonen, tied the score at 3-3 with 1:12 left in the second period. ...
Laviolette made one lineup change, playing Parent on the blueline over Lukas Krajicek, who played just eight minutes in Game 1. ...
The Mad, Mad World of Dr. Lemaire: defenseman Matthew Corrente, the Devils' first round pick in 2006, made his playoff debut. Lemaire gave the 22-year-old five minutes of icetime at right wing. ...
Brodeur, who started his 168th consecutive postseason game for the Devils, looked warmed up by the third. He made several key saves, including one on Ian Laperriere alone in front of the net with 8:30 left in the third period. ...
Attendance for Game 2 was 17,625, a second straight sellout at The Rock.